By Melanie J. Knox, Opinion Editor
Inspired by Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28, Jack Maxwell hopes to share the inspiration with others through his sculpture, Jacob’s Ladder
Jack Maxwell had a vision. When the Woodward family donated $26 million to ACU five years ago in memory of Grace Woodward, the university wanted to find a way to commemorate a gift of that magnitude.
The university considered a portrait or a large plaque, but it wanted this project to be something different. Enter Maxwell.
In the story of Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28, Jacob sees angels climbing up and down a ladder that reaches to heaven. From it, Jack Maxwell, chair of the Art Department, got his inspiration.
Initially envisioned as a six-foot shepherd’s staff held by a hand reaching from the ground, the project now includes a 45-by-45-foot “outdoor meditative space” with a garden, a small pool of water and what looks like the remains of an ancient Roman structure. Near the pool, a bronze sculpture of angels climbing into heaven will stretch more than 30 feet toward the sky.
The project will be located on the lawn between the Mabee Business Building and the Williams Performing Arts Center.
“It will be similar to the Quiet Place,” Maxwell said. “It’s a place for prayer and devotionals with seating, but still very naturalistic; it will look weathered and have a sense of history.”
Maxwell has completed the scale models of the project, and took a faculty renewal leave last fall to focus on the project and co-ordinate the other people involved in making it happen.
“This is a major undertaking,” Maxwell said. “We need contractors, stone masons, concrete work and founding, to name a few.”
Funding for this project isn’t yet complete, but will come entirely from gifts to the university from interested persons who want to make the dream of the structure a reality. The project should be completed entirely by 2004.
Maxwell said that a major part of the design components has been symbolism. In a notebook created about the Jacob’s Ladder project by a student worker for the administration, Maxwell wrote, “The overall site consists of three intertwined circles, a reference to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There are purposely only four angels as the number four holds spiritual implication. It is a number that traditionally signifies the entire earth; four corners and the four directions.”
“You can explore and discover relationships that exist and are not apparent in one visit,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell didn’t want to leave the project with only an Old Testament slant, and worked to bring Christ and the New Testament into his art as well, with the garden, gate and other references to Christ.
Scriptures from Isaiah and Genesis will be carved into the stone and the scriptures pieced together.
“One of the difficult things to do in art is to represent spirituality in a reverent, powerful and effective way,” Maxwell said, “And it’s even harder to do in sculpture.”
The sculpture of the angels involves more than talent, some bronze and clay. First, Maxwell made a model of the sculpture, which was sent to a foundry. The foundry will enlarge the model using laser technology and produce a larger replica of the model in Styrofoam. The Styrofoam pieces are then sprayed with an oil-based clay that will not air dry, loaded on an 18-wheeler, and brought back here for Maxwell to work on all summer.
When Maxwell finishes sculpting the clay and adding all the details, an artist who specializes in bronze molds will come from Santa Fe and make up to 100 molds from the clay structure.
“Most people think that when you cast a mold, it is all in one piece,” he said. “But really, you may have a different mold for a foot or a leg.”
Once the molds are made, bronze is poured, and the different pieces are welded together.
“It’s like a giant three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle,” Maxwell said.
The welds are then ground down and hidden until the structure looks as though it was all cast from one mold, and the now bronze sculpture of the four angels is set up by a crane.
Geoff Broderick, assistant professor of art, has been working with Maxwell as a consultant.
“I wouldn’t have been nearly as confident had it not been for Geoff’s experience,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell also has had the support of executive vice president Jack Rich and chief administrative services officer Kevin Watson.
“It’s very exciting,” Rich said. “People will recognize this project not only as a piece to enjoy as art, but also to enjoy it for the message it delivers. Combining these is an exciting concept.”
The notebook said the administration asked Maxwell to conceptualize the idea of a three-dimensional piece of art based on his reputation as an accomplished sculptor and his position in the art department.
“My hope is that this will be a cornerstone piece among many future spiritually based works for campus,” Maxwell said. “We have a beautiful campus and it would be inspiring for visitors and students to see more art that would affect them in a positive way. That’s my dream for this campus, and I think it can happen.”